The Columbus 2010 Architecture Birthday Walkabout, Before Hollywood Came to Town


“Eos” by Dessa Kirk, 2006.

Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. (Usually Indiana, anyway.) We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

Once upon a time on October 12, 2010, the two of us drove a quick hour south from Indianapolis to the city of Columbus. Though it’s much the same size as a lot of other Indiana cities we’ve visited statewide over the years, its visuals aren’t interchangeable. Thanks to a combination of factors — including significant funding from Cummins, the local engine manufacturer of considerable size — Columbus has become a haven for Modernist architecture, some of it overseen by big names in the field. It quite sincerely looks like no other town around.

Large Arch and Us!

What does this photo have to do with recent headline news? The answer might just surprise you!

We paid our visit eighteen months prior to MCC’s launch. It’s been on my to-do list of road-trip catch-up entries ever since. It inched closer to the front burner in 2017 when a genuine film crew came to Columbus, shot for three weeks, and the end result became an indie film called Columbus. Starring the John Cho and Split’s Haley Lu Richardson, the story follows two disparate strangers whose lives intersect as they’re heading in opposite directions. Richardson is the hometown girl who’s graduated and has the potential to do better things, but is afraid to go off to college because she has to take care of her ex-addict mom (Homicide‘s Michelle Forbes). Cho is an out-of-towner beholden to an extended visit when his father, a renowned architect and touring lecturer, has come to town only to be hospitalized with potentially terminal issues that have left him too weak to be moved elsewhere.

She should leave but thinks she can’t; he can’t leave but wishes he could. They meet; they chat; they learn things. Director Kogonada stages their messes in front of various Columbus buildings and structures, distinct and imposing in their designs — “asymmetrical yet balanced,” as one character puts it. That’s also a fair summation of where their lives are at the end. It’s not a romantic film per se (their 22-year age difference is addressed and does not get the standard Hollywood hall pass), but it’s a fine showcase for the increasingly versatile Cho (see also last year’s excellent Searching) and for relative newcomer Richardson (who later went on to Support the Girls and this year’s cystic fibrosis romance 5 Feet Apart), and includes worthy supporting roles for indie champ Parker Posey and overlooked actor-brother Rory Culkin as the sidelined best friend who gets a nifty speech about the short-sightedness of criticizing other people’s attention spans.

Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans!

The Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans. In one scene Cho paces around it while on a tense phone call in Korean.

Veterans Letters!

In Cho’s scene, names of inscribed veterans are visible. On another side are excerpts from some of their letters.

I missed Columbus during its short stint here in one (1) Indy theater, but it’s now available on Kanopy for anyone with a library card in a participating system. So I caught up and recognized quite a few places Anne and I saw eight years ago. As it so happens, I was even more reminded of it last week (the day before my birthday) when I heard the news about the passing of celebrated architect I.M. Pei at age 102. Pei was among the many contributors to the downtown Columbus skyline, though it was just one building, the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library completed in 1969. As it so happens, it’s the same library where Richardson’s character works.

Cleo Rogers Memorial Library!

Our photo doesn’t quite do it justice, but we saw it in person and we’re counting that for something.

In front of the library is “Large Arch” by British sculptor Henry Moore, installed in 1971. Pei personally recommended Moore for the job with the expectation that his art style would stand in stark contrast with Pei’s rigid lines and structure. Twenty feet tall, twelve feet wide, 5½ tons of bronze — asymmetrical yet balanced, as it were. Richardson is seen pacing around “Large Arch” in a few scenes.

Large Arch and Me!

We saw another piece of Moore’s recently in Chicago. More about that in a future entry.

Tower & Arch!

If you stand on the other side of “Large Arch”, you can see another prominent Columbus building, likewise in the film.

Across the street from the library is First Christian Church, a 1941 creation of Eliel Saarinen (with some interior touches by his renowned father Eero), who’s name-checked in the film more than once. Next to the main church building is a 166-foot tower that intentionally breaks from ye olde-fashioned church design tradition of yore. Modernist on the outside, fundamentals on the inside.

First Christian Church!

This side of the tower didn’t make it into the film, but on the other side, there’s a scene where Richardson and Culkin hold a conversation on the church steps and Culkin exudes limitless patience from within the “friend zone”.

First Christian Church tower!

The tower was made to allow organ music to transmit outside. Curiously, this very noticeable special feature is mentioned nowhere on their website.

Kogonada’s steady cameras glimpsed a few locations we didn’t. We saw a few more places that didn’t make the cut. I did spot a few other places we all caught. His shots were more composed than ours and had the advantage of a poetic, contemplative screenplay to tie them together, but we did what we could for our own records and reminiscence.

Bartholomew County Courthouse!

The Bartholomew County Courthouse predates its Modern neighbors, but peeks through windows in at least one scene.


A well-kept alley like this one, if not necessarily the same one, is used for two silent interludes as life goes on for other townspeople.

Columbus Post Office!

The Columbus Post Office, built in 1970, designed by Kevin Roche, winner of the 1982 Pritzker Prize for a particular skyscraper in Connecticut. Roche just passed away last March.

Cummins Engine!

Roche also designed Cummins’ corporate HQ, where stood this sample engine.

Bartholomew County Jail!

A most different prison: the Bartholomew County Jail, a 1990 work by Don M. Hisaka. Though in his youth he had to endure life in a WWII internment camp in Arkansas, he later became a leading contributor to the Cleveland cityscape.

Historic Columbus City Hall!

Also not Modern: the Historic Columbus City Hall of 1895. It’s now used for offices and apartments.

Yellow Neon Chandelier!

Introductory features at Columbus’ Visitors Center include “Yellow Neon Chandelier” by Dale Chihuly. That’s 900 pieces, 1200 pounds, and 50 feet of neon.

AT&T Switching Center!

I harbor major grudges against AT&T, but their local Switching Center has some decent glasswork.

Twisted Girders!

Other art installations along our walk included these twisted girders, about which I find myself empty-handed on details.

Ancestral Way!

Ancestral Way, 2006, by local artist Robert Pulley.

Bike Racks!

Other quality-of-life flourishes include their custom-made bike racks.

We Cater to Cowards!

A walk around their downtown businesses was not unlike many a downtown or a town square, though with creative touches here and there, such as this candid yet tolerant dentist.

We had lunch at a place called Smiths’ Row, about which we recorded no details and which closed in December 2016, but our calorie intake didn’t stop there. No trip to Columbus would be complete without a stop at Zaharakos, their big deal of an ice cream parlor. A staple since 1900, Zaharakos came to our attention (I’m fairly certain) thanks to glowing mentions in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine, who are pretty helpful when it comes to giving us ideas for other Hoosier businesses and talents to check out.

It’s been too long to recall what we ordered, but I assume it ruled and was the best possible way to cap off our Columbus experience. Maybe Cho and Richardson can reunite there in the sequel over a 5-scoop “Big Z” with all the toppings.

Zaharakos front doors!

Their fabled front doors.


Our first few minutes had that awkward feeling of small-town intruder alert, but eventually they sold us ice cream.


Their assortment of syrups. In the mirror that’s me and the happy birthday gal. Asymmetrical yet balanced.

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